Turkish filmmaker Erdem Tepegoz writes and directs In the Shadows. Packed with steampunk aesthetics and grungy dystopian tropes, Erdem Tepegoz has crafted an intriguing Tarkovskyian vision that serves as an impressive showcase for leading man Numan Acar.
In the Shadows takes place in a dystopian future of an undefined of time and place, dominated by primitive technology and an omnipresent surveillance system. After conducting a strange illness, The Miner attempts conceal his injuries as he hunts for the officials in charge of society. The more he investigates, the more doubts arise about the system within which he is living with the additional pressures of brutal work, basic rations and precious sleep beginning to push things to new extremes.
Opening with a claustrophobic mine collapse, we see our central character The Miner contract a strange injury. He is treated by a piece of clunky machinery which fails to identify anything wrong – yet this begins the journey of his growing dissent. We are immediately hit by the distinctive aesthetics of Tepegoz’s film – surrounded by rubble and tower block buildings it seems like a dystopian former warzone, add into the mix an eerie voyeuristic primitive security system and lack of any on-screen officials, other than the clunky voices of automated machines linked with the cameras, and you get a sense of the steampunk inspired world which the filmmaker has crafted.
The inhabitants of this society spend their days operating hulking dated pieces of machinery – the purpose of which is not clear, queuing for food rations, and cautiously looking over their shoulders at the many cameras. This is a surveillance state, that much is clear, but many of the functions and established routines are left ambiguous and enigmatic by filmmaker Tepegoz who instead uses the film as an allegory on questioning systems of power and control.
Acar delivers an impressively stoic lead performance, yet manages to successfully capture the internal battle faced by The Miner. He begrudgingly commits to his daily tasks, yet gradually grows inquisitive of the system with which he occupies. Watching The Miner gradually sow the seeds of discontent, sneak around the rubble strewn dystopian locale in the evenings, and tire of the domineering machinery becomes quietly engrossing.
Elements of body horror begin to creep into the narrative, furthering the grimy science-fiction aesthetics, whilst eerie sound design from Eli Haligua helps further the clunking, voyeuristic feel of this world that feels never quite silent or at peace.
In the Shadows is an impressive, ambiguous piece of dystopian drama. Those seeking clean cut answers may be left disappointed, yet Tepegoz’s depiction of the gradual questioning and challenging of authority is an impressive one – especially when paired with distinctive steampunk aesthetics and an impressive central performance.